A Georgia Stanway penalty gave European champions England a scrappy 1-0 win over Haiti to begin their Women’s World Cup title bid in unconvincing fashion on Saturday.
Played in front of over 44,000 fans at Brisbane Stadium, most of who were supporting England, Stanway’s 29th-minute penalty proved to be enough to just about see off a gutsy Haitian side.
Meanwhile, former champions Japan romped to a 5-0 win over Zambia in their Women’s World Cup opener at Waikato Stadium on Saturday, outclassing the debutant Africans with a slick display of pass-and-move football.
Hinata Miyazawa scored twice and fellow forward Mina Tanaka found the net in the second half after having two earlier efforts called back for offside by VAR.
Winger Jun Endo added the fourth in the 71st minute and substitute Riko Ueki got the fifth from a penalty in stoppage time after Zambia goalkeeper Catherine Musonda had been dismissed for two yellow cards.
Japan join Spain, who beat Costa Rica 3-0 in Wellington on Friday, at the top of Group C ahead of their second match of the tournament against the Central Americans in Dunedin on Wednesday.
England went into the match as firm favourites over Haiti, who are playing in their first World Cup.
But despite dominating territory and possession, the Lionesses struggled to put Haiti away and had to rely on some late brilliance from goalkeeper Mary Earps to secure all three points.
England, who have been embroiled in a dispute with their football association over bonuses in the lead-up to the tournament, are aiming to add the World Cup to the European crown they won at Wembley last year.
They came into the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as the favourites along with holders the United States.
But they will have to step up a level for their next group games against Denmark and China, both of whom are higher than the 53rd-ranked Haiti.
England coach Sarina Wiegman said Haiti, who went into the tournament a largely unknown quantity, would trouble their other Group D opponents.
“We played a very hard game, we were absolutely ready,” said the Dutch coach.
“But Haiti played a very good game too. They were unpredictable, very direct, very strong on the counterattack.
“They were really quick and very athletic. With a performance like that, I think the other two countries are really going to struggle with them.
“I’m just really happy we got the win and got the first three points in a really hard game.”
With expectations back home high, England seemed nervous in the opening stages in Brisbane and turned the ball over too easily.
Their midfield soon began to dominate and their front three were causing havoc in the Haiti box. Only some desperate defending kept the Lionesses at bay.
The deadlock was eventually broken in the 29th minute thanks to a penalty, an almost regular occurrence at this World Cup.
From a Chloe Kelly corner, forward Batcheba Louis leapt with her hands in the air and on review, the referee adjudged the ball had brushed her fingertips.
Stanway’s initial spotkick high and to the left was brilliantly saved by a diving Kerly Theus, but after another video review, the referee ruled the keeper had come off her line.
Stanway made no mistake the second time to give the Lionesses a lead they just about deserved.
For all their dominance, the English looked vulnerable on the break.
Haiti had a great chance five minutes into the second half through their brilliant midfielder Melchie Dumornay, whose powerful strike from outside the box was well saved by Earps.
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England tried to slow the game down in the second half and the contest began opening up, presenting Wiegman’s side with several looks at goal.
But their failure to take their opportunities almost came back to bite them late on when Roseline Eloissaint found herself one on one with Earps, whose superb save with her left leg denied Haiti a shock point.